Paralympics 2012 – Athletics

By a massive stroke of good fortune, Chipo (the other International Office Assistant) and I got tickets to the Paralympic Games on the 3th of September. The office was extremely kind to let us off early for the day (Thank you Vicki and Andrew!). Naturally we were awfully excited – in fact a bit too excited, as we completely forgot to plan our journey. It was only in the train that we realised we had to make our way from Victoria to Stratford without any maps or smart phones.

After wobbling on the moving train looking at the map on the ceiling and frantically calling friends and family (who were naturally a bit annoyed or concerned about our spontaneity) – we managed to reach Stratford. It was a bit strange at first, as the whole station was deserted and it looked like a scene from one of those Zombie apocalypse movies. But once we reached the Olympic Park – the atmosphere was electric! After a lot of checks (must mention that the staff were extremely friendly and understanding (Chipo had a fork in her bag that got the metal detector beeping)) – we reached the stadium. It was buzzing with activity – and with the audience cheering, it seemed to have a life of its own – a giant roaring unit.

 What pleasantly surprised me was how supportive the crowd was to each and every country. Every winner got a massive applause, though it is safe to say that Team GB were the obvious favourites. We got see the Women’s 400m – T54 finals, Women’s Long Jump – F20 finals, Men’s 400m Final –T52, Men’s 5000m – T12 Finals, Men’s High Jump – F42 Final (where I was too excited to hold my pizza still. Now my white shirt will hold the everlasting memory of my country’s first silver medal in London 2012 Paralympic). There were several other events but my memory seems to be failing me right now, but I do remember that we were extremely lucky to see 2 world records and 1 Paralympic record broken right in front of us.

After a punctual end of the show, we all flocked out of the stadium. The Games makers were amazing and made the journey to the train station extremely entertaining. We got to see several chicken dances, random people high fiving each other and every one passing by the mounted police patting the horses (guilty as charged). We finally reached home in Southampton well past midnight – extremely tired and exhausted but happy and inspired.

And that was our gorgeous view!

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Sailing!

Right now, most of the UK is dealing with the melancholy left after the end of Olympics Games. Hopefully, in a week’s time when the Paralympic Games begin the vacuum will cease to exist and we will all be back to our cheering and optimistic states.

Till then, let me tell you about the Olympic Sailing – Elliott 6m Match Racing, I went to watch at Weymouth. The weather was glorious – genuinely – no sarcasm intended. The sun was shining, the wind was strong, the volunteers were chirpy and everything was brightly pink. Initially, the commentators were chatting with the audience and telling us about the rules at the particular event as most people were unaware of them – memorably a couple who had bought the tickets by mistake : they wanted to watch Table Tennis, but had hit the wrong button :/

We watched the bronze medal competition between Russia and Finland. It was quite exciting to watch actually – the crowds enthusiastically supported both teams. In the end Finland won with the score 3-1. However, it wasn’t without controversy – the Russian team had raised a protest flag and after the race both team skippers had to go to the umpire boat for an half an hour discussion while the audience waited.

The fight for the Gold medal between Spain and Australia was highly dramatic as well. The wind got a lot stronger and as the Australian team member Price put it – “The conditions were quite wild.” During the race at a point of time, when both teams were neck to neck, Australia’s Price got swept off the boat by the huge waves. But the Australians did not give up. The scores were tied at the end of the 4th round, 2-2. At the last one, Spain won by a big margin of a minute and a second.

At the end of both the competitions, there was a special show put up by the Navy as it was the last day of the Olympic Games at Weymouth. And as the commentator pointed out – it was also probably the last Olympic match most of us would watch live in our lives in the UK.

Spain winning !

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So it begins……

Hello! Since this is my first post officially – let me introduce myself before you guys think – who is this person and why should I spend my precious time reading her blog?

Good Question by the way. My name is Ananya (confusing to most people – yes there is ‘a’ ‘n’ right after the ‘a’ ‘n’) – mostly it gets jumbled up to become Anarnia or butchered and renamed to any of the following – Ana, Ann, Anne, Anya…well the permutations and combinations can go on forever so I’d rather stop. I am an Indian National and studying Computer Science (not too surprising, is it?) at Electronics and Computer Science at University of Southampton.

I have landed an internship at the International office for the summer (during recession – so there are jobs available – it is not that bad!). My bosses thought it would be good to have an International student giving his/her view of the life in the UK and this gives me the chance to ramble about the details of my apparently exciting life and let you know what I do, outside my summer job (though it hardly seems this summer – it is like The Game of Thrones paid the British Weather to advertise for them – ‘The Winter is coming’).

Before beginning my much overdue blog let me add a disclaimer because I am feeling particularly ambitious – All characters appearing in these blogs are not fictitious. Any resemblance to real/fictional persons, living or dead is purely intentional.

Well, currently in the UK, people have the Olympic fever (other than the regular flu, of course). It all started on a rainy day Southampton, with the Olympic torch relay. A lot of people happily braved the rain to cheer the Runners and were rewarded with free balloons, some green quirky freebee and a very entertaining street performer. He stood in the middle of road, and pretended that he was stopping all the police vans with his superpower – you should have seen the faces on those officers- if looks could burn, the man would have probably landed on the massively luminous sphere of plasma bound by gravity at the centre of the Solar System.

After 2 weeks, we had the opening ceremony for the Olympic Games – and what a start! The Queen with Mr Bond , who would have possibly imagined? Then Mr Bean (Rowan Atkinson) playing one note, getting bored and dreaming about Chariots of Fire was just hilariously hilarious. These are just the mains highlights; the other bits were spectacular as well. Which segment did you enjoy the most, do let me know.

As for the Olympic Games, I have been lucky enough to get tickets to Sailing. So I will blog next week to tell you how amazing and exciting it actually is. Till then, watch the games – root for your country and watch the video of the Happiest Olympic Worker – she is pure genius!

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How time flies

It almost seems like yesterday that I walked into the International Office at the George Thomas Building to commence my internship which has seen me spend the past three months working in an office environment, having so many meetings and completing different projects.

Indeed, it has been a roller coaster ride of 55 working days spent on various activities and tasks which have not only enriched my working experience and skill set but also exposed me to a whole new environment and way of doing things.

This internship afforded me the great privilege of working with a very diverse and ‘international’ team which has improved my team working skills tremendously.  For example, my work on the Social networking campaign of the International Office which includes monitoring its Facebook page meant I had to work with all teams in the office to provide answers to queries asked by Fans which could be on just anything.  This also improved my communication skills.

The team members have been quite supportive and helpful in making this internship go smoothly and I am most grateful to them all.  Also, because I was “hotdesking”, this meant I ended up using so many officers’ desks while they were away.  I am therefore grateful to Rami, Ruth, Polly, Vicki, Carlene, Alison and Elisa for ‘letting’ me use their desks while they were away.

My Line Manager, Ines, went a great length to ensure I had a productive time here by making sure my calendar was busy most if not all the time and scheduling weekly meetings where I had to give regular updates on progress made on various projects/tasks and if there were any impediments to my meeting the deadline(s).  This for sure kept me on my toes!

My other boss, Jo gave me probably the most challenging experience as I had to build the Links Register from scratch following her specifications.  This was an eye-opening experience which made me fall back on my ECS knowledge base so as to deliver.  I am most grateful to both bosses – Jo and Ines for making sure I had a productive and enriching time here.  Of course, I always had to rely on other colleagues as well for clarification on issues I did not understand and all were quite helpful. My thanks go to all in the office for their support. 

From next week, the only deadlines I would have to bother about would be course works and labs so there really isn’t time to rest and recharge.  Also, for any queries, I would now have to turn to my lecturers, tutor or course mates not office colleagues.  I wouldn’t’ also have to specify whether I am a staff or student when I go to SUSU café or the Staff Club for a meal as I most surely would be dressed as a proper student!  What changes these would be.  I am going to miss the ‘quiet’ and mature atmosphere, the cakes and goodies from international travels always left at “the usual place” and the occasional office banter. 

I have been asked to keep in touch and I surely will.  In fact, there is an invitation from Jon and Richard for a drink and Rami for possibly football or ‘Shisha’ competition. Once again, many thanks to all at the International officers without exception; keep on with the good work!

 

Mountbatten building

Mountbatten building (Image courtsey the International Office)

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Bumpy ride

As my internship gradually approaches its end, you would expect that things would get less busy.  (Un)fortunately, this was not the case last week as it saw me devoting more time to one of my major projects this summer – the Links Register.  Coincidentally, this project brought back memories of my design lab last semester – the Toon Generator ( or T1) – which is probably why I found it quite interesting and challenging. 

The thing about design labs unlike others is that you are not given a set of lab instructions to follow so as to arrive at a pre-determined result.  Rather, you are given a set of modules or components, told what to build, given a deadline and then asked to come up with a design and build the device.   The T1 lab had us design and build a toon (or tune) generator which could play different notes depending on the user’s choice.  This we built from different components such as microcontrollers, loud speaker, resistors, PLDs, capacitors and a transistor among others.

Now, I am in no way saying I built an electronic device for the International Office.  The similarity between the T1 and Links Register mainly lay in the fact that both involved elements of design as the Links Register had me designing a new database based on the requirements of Jo, the Deputy Director who is also in charge of the Links Register.

But it’s not only been about the Links Register, as the new term approaches, the International Office is getting set to receive the new international students even as campus is already getting busier.  For three days this week we will be carrying out the Meet & Greet Service at Heathrow Airport and this will see many International Officers helping out, though the Admin Team Manager Vicki and summer intern Anton’s help are going to be running this.

As campus gets busier, with the freshers arriving, it also means some of my mates are returning too and getting set for the next academic year which is just few days away.  Oh yes, the days of coursework, deadlines and lectures are around the corner again. But for now, we don’t want to think so much about that as we rather make the most of the remaining days of the holiday.  This saw us play a game of football at the Indoor Sports hall over the weekend, then off to the Mitre pub on Portswood to watch the premier league game between Manchester United and Chelsea.  It was a shame though that my team lost but the game was a good one.

And by the way, one of the International Officers, Zoe, sent some pictures of her new baby, while we had a new member joining the International Office team – Debbie.  This means that during my internship, I have witnessed the arrival of two new members of the team – Debbie and Frances, who joined much earlier.  Thus far, it seems both have been having a good time working in the office.   It was also Andrew’s birthday and he got loads of good wishes from us. Andrew is one of the Regional Regional Managers in the office which is maybe why he brought sweets instead of the traditional birthday cake.  Frances, Jon, Jo F., Rami and Marcela also returned from their holidays which of course meant the gift shelves were filled with items.

The remaining two weeks of my internship would see me completing the Links Register, compiling some additional reports, assist with the International/EU welcome programme and undertake one more project under Ines.  Seems like it might just be a bumpy ride…

Links GUI

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Interlude!

One of the benefits of working at the International Office is that I am entitled to a period of holiday which could be taken any time during my internship.   It was therefore not out of place that I decided to use this entitlement at the middle of my internship as an interlude so as to go to recharge and re-energise for the remainder of the internship.

I also saw this period as an opportunity to continue my exploration of Europe which partly led to my choice to travel to Spain.  But this was not the sole reason as I and a number of friends from the Catholic Society of the University had already planned to attend the 26th World Youth Day in Spain.  We were also joined by friends from other parts of the United Kingdom which meant we had a group of about 25 of us!

The World Youth Day is a youth-oriented event organised by the Catholic Church but with participation not restricted to Catholic youths which means even non-Catholics attend the event.  It is believed to be the largest youth event in the world and the edition just held in Spain had between 1.5 and 2 million youths in attendance.   The last edition was held in Sydney, Australia in 2008 while the next will be in Brazil in 2013.

We attended activities in different parts of Spain with our journey beginning in Siete Aguas, Valencia where we spent four days participating in different events lined up such as concerts, workshops, sight-seeing, sports, reflections, prayers and much more.  An interesting aspect was the fact that we had participants from all continents and so many countries.  This reminded me of the University of Southampton’s international outlook.

Our next port of call was Madrid which would host the climax of the event at the Cuatro Vientos Airfield but that would be after spending the week there.  The event was planned such that groups were assigned accommodation in different parts of the city or even in surrounding suburbs. Our group was posted to stay in Valdemoro, a district about one hour drive from Madrid where we were further split into smaller numbers to be hosted by different families.  On our first night in Valdemoro, all the host families gave us a massive welcome which of course included a huge dinner and for the first time I had fig fruits! Their hospitality was priceless.

The week saw us shuttling between Valdemoro and Madrid attending different events such as the Opening Mass, concerts, catechesis, sight-seeing, workshops, seminars, colloquia and very importantly making friends everywhere we went.   We also visited Getafe and El Escorial where we saw The Royal Seat of San Lorenzo de El Escorial.  Since participants were located all over Madrid, it was always easy to spot them which meant we found ourselves saying ‘Hola’ to people we never even knew wherever we went be it on the streets, the Metro, cafes, bars or parks.  I am not sure I have ever been in such a strange friendly atmosphere as I always saw myself blurting out ‘hola’ intermittently and getting a very warm response which at times led to long conversations.  I learnt to say ‘hello’ in Mandarin, German, Polish, French, Pidgin English, Italian, Portuguese, Russian and of course Spanish!

After Madrid, we headed to Toledo, a well-known World Heritage Site where we probably had the most captivating sight-seeing.  We were fortunate to have one of our group members who hails from Toledo and studying Archaeology at the University of Southampton.  He made it quite an experience. 

The WYD has left me with fond memories to always be cherished.  It has also made me appreciate unity in diversity.  With temperatures of up to 41 degrees Celsius, it was quite a warm period which reminded me of back home in Nigeria.   I also made friends from all continents and we have kept in touch.  As I return to complete my internship, this experience has no doubt recharged me for what lies ahead.

 

Pilgrims being sprayed water for cooling effect in preparation for the World Youth Day Closing Mass at Cuatro Vientos (Image culled from msnbc.com)

 

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New Arrival

One of the interesting angles of working in an office environment is that you find here a great mix of people at different stages of their lives.  Few weeks back, there was a “send forth” event in the office for one of our colleagues named Zoe who was proceeding on maternity leave.  I think she quite enjoyed it and appreciated the show of love and support from members of the IO and promised to let us know whenever the special guest finally ‘arrived’.

The good news is that this special and long-awaited guest finally arrived this week and as we have been told already has at least two names – in both Chinese and English! Mother and child are both well and we should be getting some pictorial evidence soon.  To add to the celebratory mood, another colleague, Donna of the CAMERA team had her birthday and brought in a cool cake which was well enjoyed.

It has also been a busy period at the office as I have had to complete certain aspects of the projects I handle before Ines’ annual leave.  This means I have attended quite a number of meetings, collected loads of data, submitted drafts and got them amended before compiling the final documents and also worked on several implementations. Work still continues on both the database and website while that on Social networking is ongoing as well.

Interestingly, I never knew I was putting myself into a corner by explaining what I actually do in the office in the last blog, as ever since, I have had Jon, a Team Leader, asking me the delivery date for the special recruitment device.  Apparently, he already has plans on deploying this tool to boost his team’s recruitment drive. The only caveat is that he seems to have forgotten the budget for this project but I hope he mentions it soon.

Another benefit of ‘hotdesking’ is that you don’t get too familiar with your desk (really not sure if this counts as a benefit though).  This clearly played out some days back when Karen, also a Team Leader, came in early and placed some flowers from her garden on some desks including mine.  Despite her gracious act, I surprisingly sat at my desk for almost half an hour without noticing the flowers until Karen came up and asked me what I thought about them. Contrast that with Yvonne of the Admin Team who noticed them right away when she arrived! I probably have to start working on a new project – Floral recognition!

Sadly, this week I have come to see parts of my host country that I have never before imagined possible. Few days ago have seen parts of England witness a string of violence and riots which were sparked off by a peaceful protest.  Fortunately, Southampton was not affected and has remained calm.  However, I have spoken with friends in different cities and followed updates on the media.  No one I have spoken with agrees these riots are justifiable. I feel for those directly affected and can only hope for a quick resolution to this strange situation, already things are calming down.  However, the police response to the situation has struck me.  Their ability to exercise restraint and use only necessary force despite the temptation to do otherwise is quite commendable. Communities have also come together to show solidarity by cleaning up the mess of these past days. To me, these positives go a long way to send the message that in the end, good always prevails over evil.

Southampton Water front (Image courtsey International Office)

Southampton Waterfront (Image courtesy International Office)

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